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Saturday, 25 July 2015

Halt Station India - Book Review

Halt Station India is a scholarly endeavour and a product of great research. Yet it is a fresh and entertaining read. It records the history of the railways in India, more particularly the famous train network of Mumbai. It documents the journey of railways right from the first train which ran from Bombay to Thane up to the latest Mumbai Metro and Monorail via the trams and best buses. What is interesting is that this is not just a story of development of trains. It is also a riveting tale of growth of the financial capital of the country Mumbai.

The book traces the journey of the tracks right from its conception. It tells us that while laying of the train tracks for the first time the rulers and the ruled worked together. It tells that on seeing the train the natives were bewildered. They thought of train to be an incarnation of the God. They applied tilak, offered coconut and flowers to the track and prostrated before it. It tells the incredible tale of how the bullock carts with clever marketing strategy gave a run for money to the railways albeit for a limited period. By a strange coincidence before two hundred years, the very spot where Kasab opened fire at innocent passengers along with his aide, was used for barbarous public execution of the criminals. As a result of wich the place had acquired the name Phansi talao. The book is full of such nuggets of the past some of which are humorous, some poignant and all of them interesting.

Halt Station India documents the history of every station big and small that falls on the route from CST to Thane. It also covers few stations after Thane up to Kalyan. It tells us as to how the station came into being. While telling so it invariably touches upon the socio-economic and political conditions of those times. After narrating its birth it speaks about the pieces of history which are still intact and lay unnoticed on the stations which get thousands of foot falls on any given day. I have been to CST numerous times but I did not know it houses an ancient durgah – Baba Bismillah durgah. The CST building was planned in such a manner that the said durgah would not be razed.

The book contains rare old photographs. It quotes passages from several official correspondences. The author has even contacted the descendants of those officials who were involved in the evolution of railways in our country in some manner or the other. I really enjoyed reading the book. It satisfied my urge of reading something fresh yet something true. This is undoubtedly one of the best books on the non-fiction shelf.

That does not mean that the book has no flaws. After a few pages the book becomes repetitive. The same sidings, the same station master’s office, the same bells and the same inscription of Glengarnock Steel. The author perhaps having visited the stations and found the relics is overwhelmed with joy. Somehow we readers can not match up with his enthusiasm. But still I loved the book. Writing a book like this involves lot of labour and I salute the author for all his efforts.

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